less of a Sports Nut and more of a Couch Potato. Some people prefer
the, well, more leisurely interpretation of the word "leisure."
To them, curling up with a good book, tuning into talk radio, or flipping
through a hundred different TV channels is the way to make the most
of free time.
the first "couch potatoes" weren't sitting on a couch,
but perhaps sitting around a campfire. Storytelling was a treasured
tradition, and for centuries it was the best "show" in the
house! Native Americans perfected the craft when no formal written language
existed, retelling the events of the day as well as passing on the legends
and beliefs of their ancestors. Today, storytelling still is a popular
"show" whether it includes ghost stories around a camp fire
or family folk tales around the fireplace.
But the personal
art of storytelling has seen much competition from electronic media
is the last half of the 20th century. Pittsburgh, in particular, is
focused on radio and television, as it has the distinction of claiming
many "firsts" and pioneering the industries in their infancy.
It claims KDKA as the first radio station; KDKA TV's precursor,
the old Dumont Network, as the first television station; and WQED TV
as the first public television station in the country.
In the late
1950's, one local TV station, WTAE TV, hosted a children's
television program well-remembered by people in the city. "Ricki
and Copper" was a half-hour children's program hosted by Pittsburgher
Ricki Wertz . . . and many adults who still live in this region can
happily recall either appearing on the program, or eagerly tuning in
to it each morning. For about a decade, Ricki and her Golden Retriever,
"Copper," welcomed to the TV studio area children celebrating
their birthdays. The children sang, shared jokes, and enjoyed "musical"
performances by Copper (who, in truth, was doing more howling more than
singing). In an age before individuals felt entitled to "fifteen
minutes of fame," appearing on "Ricki and Copper" was
a momentous honor, and a huge family affair. Parents, siblings, grandparents,
et al, felt privileged to join their children on the studio set for
the final song and good-bye parade.
was the popular Pittsburgh radio show "Party Line," hosted
by Ed and Wendy King on KDKA Radio. "Party Line" was first
and foremost a call-in show -- but compared to today's era of talk
radio, filled with contentious callers and outrageous hosts, "Party
Line" would hardly be recognized as the same breed of animal!
Line," you see, was a call-in talk show but no one could hear the
callers except for the show hosts! Ed and Wendy King would summarize
callers' questions and comments, and manage to keep the good times
going for everyone listening in at home. And the format was indeed like
a party, filled with everything from banter and unusual topics to recipe
exchanges and good-natured quizzes. Each night there was a special question
called the Pretzel.
claims she was not originally intended to be a co-host on the show,
but she accompanied her husband to the radio studio one evening and
eventually started to comment on some of the topics being discussed.
It was a fortuitous move, one that turned "Party Line" with
Ed and Wendy King into a radio hit for the next 21 years! The program
continued on KDKA TV until Ed's death in 1971.
radio tradition in Pittsburgh is KQV Radio. From the early 60s until
the mid-1970s, the station broadcast from a downtown studio that had
street-level windows. Those windows became knows as the Showcase Studio
Windows, and KQV, the hip top-40 station at that time, drew a crowd
on the street that would watch the show in progress. A common on-air
joke was that the studio was located on the corner of "Walk"
and "Don't Walk," a reference to the pedestrian traffic
signals at that intersection.
were called the Fun Lovin' Five, and they broadcast 24-hours-a-day from
just inside their Showcase Studio Windows. There was a big rivalry between
KQV and that KDKA-Radio down at Gateway Center, especially when the Beatles arrived in the United States in 1964. Over the years,
the station changed. Its FM counterpart, WDVE -- with the old "Love
format" so in contrast to today's rock format took over
one of the windows on Smithfield Street. Before the end of 1975, KQV
had changed to an all-news format, which continues to this day.
TV were and still are popular leisure-time diversions.
Another pop art entertainment form that was not as lucky to withstand
the test of time was the drive-in movie show. Pittsburgh was often considered
a center of drive-ins, with over 40 in the greater Pittsburgh area,
but most of them have closed. During the 1950's and 1960's,
however, the "drive-in" movie experience was an entertainment
culture unto itself!
drive-in in the Pittsburgh area was the old South Park Drive-In on Route
88 in Bethel Park. Built in 1939, it even had curtains for a while that
helped hide the screen from passing motorists. The South Park Drive-In
closed in August of 1985 when the place was mobbed with drive-in fans
lamenting the slow death of this nostalgic entertainment form.
Up on Route
30 in North Versailles, passersby can still see where the Blue Dell
Drive-In was. The empty screen is still there, and beside it is the
site of the old Blue Dell Diner. Just below that are the crumbling ruins
of the Blue Dell Swimming Pool. This triple Blue Dell complex -- pool,
diner and drive-in theatre -- was owned by the Warren family. Their
first drive-in theatre was the "Super 30" on Route 30 near
Irwin. They eventually built, owned and operated 7 drive-ins in the
region, and the "Greater Pittsburgh Drive-In," also on Route
30, just east of the Westinghouse Bridge, still plays a double
bill on each of its five screens every night in the warm months.
sad lack of drive-ins in the region, people in search of entertainment
have turned to the mega-movie-plexes that mark the suburbs. Of course,
plenty of other options exist for the performing arts in Western Pennsylvania.
Downtown Pittsburgh's Cultural District centers around the Benedum Center
for the Performing Arts and Heinz Hall. The abundance of area
universities present many opportunities for music, dance and theatrical
Segregation was a sad fact of American history, and the sports arena was far from
the only battleground. In fact, racism prompted the region's Black community
to found many of its own amusements. While the Miss Pittsburgh Pageant
took place at Kennywood Amusement Park's segregated swimming pool, residents
of Pittsburgh's Hill District held their own beauty pageant, sponsored
by the Black Professional Association. The week-long event ended in
a swimsuit competition and talent show. By far, the largest leisure
event in the Hill District was its annual summer picnic. In the 1940's,
the picnic offered games, races, prize drawings, big band concerts and
and jazz music ranked as an incredibly popular entertainment outlet for residents
of the Hill. Clubs offered big-name talent, including icons such as
Dizzy Gillespie, Cab Calloway, Lena Horne and Duke Ellington. The community's
music scene took on the atmosphere of New York's Harlem,
and in fact, Pittsburgh was known as the place for music between New
York and Chicago.
Archive of Industrial Society, Hillman Library
Avenue in its jazz club heyday in the 1940s.
to transcend race and celebrate diversity was housed one of the region's most historic arts institutions, which
still stands on the same site where it first opened its doors as the
Carnegie Institute back in 1895. Now knows as The Carnegie, it houses
a library, art gallery, music hall, and museum within its massive stone
walls, a gift to the city from the 19th century industrialist Andrew
who prefer a less high-brow outlet for their entertainment, each and
every neighborhood has its counterpart to the well-known television
pub "Cheers" (a place where everyone knows your name).
Some claim outlandish histories, like Tramp's downtown, which not
only used to be a "house of ill repute" but also maintains
that it was the site of a ghoulish murder that spawned a ghost that
was said to roam the premises for the next one hundred years. Today,
Tramp's operates under new ownership and a new name although
workers there claim that the ghost remains!
are famous for their pubs, clubs and gathering places, and each one
caters to a particular crowd. Some regions are defined by the ethnic
groups that have settled in the area and now maintain cultural entities
and ethnic restaurants. The North Side reflects the heritage of its
German residents in restaurants, while Squirrel Hill has many of the
restaurants and community organizations that echo its large Jewish population.
are defined not so much by the ethnic group but by the demographic that has clustered in the region, influencing the stores, eateries,
and nightclubs that line its streets. Pittsburgh's South Side has a
reputation for attracting college crowds out to party, while Shadyside
caters to the young professional crowd reflective of its residents.
And Pittsburgh's Strip District which 200 years ago served as
the break-bulk district for goods that would eventually travel by boat
to other US cities further west is today home to the city's hottest
nightclubs, trendy restaurants, and eclectic bars. It is a popular tourist
destination, rivaled only by Station Square, Pittsburgh's one-time railroad
station on the South Side that today serves as a collection of restaurants
and boutiques with high tourist appeal.